Steve & Deb prep a 2008 Subaru Outback for cross-country traveling

Most of this thread is past-tense, and has been copy/pasted from other forums. Due to this, the dates or timeline might not be entirely linear. Now that we are back from our first cross-country trip, it is interesting to read some of my thoughts as I progressed.

Our youngest daughter has graduated from high school, and in the fall we will be taking her to Seattle for college. Heading out (from Ohio) will be a straight through Interstate trip. Coming back will be exploring as many out of the way places as we can find for anywhere from two weeks to two months.

I've had this Outback since new, although I've made very few modifications to it proir to the last few months. This isn’t going to be an off-road build thread. I’m not putting together a rig for day trips rock crawling or weekends in the desert. My vehicle is just plain not fit for these type of excursions nor do I have any interest in doing so. I am putting together a vehicle that will be comfortable for hours of Interstate travel at a time, and then capable of going on forest roads, gravel, dirt, and mild trails wherever we happen to find them. With that in mind, you will see as many comfort and convenience modifications as capability mods.

After this trip, our plans are to spend long vacations exploring the US, going to places where other folks don't, as I hate crowds in general, and especially on vacations. We want to get to those out of the way places that don't necessarily *require* an offroad vehicle, but having one makes the trip more enjoyable, such as dirt and gravel roads, forest roads, medium trails, etc. Of course I want the ride to be comfortable getting there on the endless miles of highways, too.

Starting Point:
2008 Subaru Outback 2.5 XT Limited (turbocharged) with 36k miles as of August 2015
- Obsidian Black Pearl
- 5 Speed Manual Transmission

Factory/Dealer Installed Options:
- Auto-Dimming Mirror/Compass w/Homelink
- Floor Mats
- Winter Floor Mats
- Rear Cargo Net
- Rear Cargo Tray

- Dash Cubby GPS Mounting Plate
- Rear Dome/Reading Light
- WeatherTech DigitalFit Floor Liners (front only)
- LED Interior lighting conversion
- Sportster 5 Sirius Satellite Radio
- Garmin nuvi 2798LMT GPS
- TapTurn Signal Module
- LED Cargo Area Lighting
- LED Liftgate Flood Lights

Cosmetic/Convenience Mods:
- Liftgate completely debadged
- Smoked 3rd Brake Light and Back-Up Lights
- Hella Supertone Horn Kit
- LED Backup and License Bulbs
- Redline Tuning QuickLIFT Elite Hood Strut

- 2011 Forester XT wheels for all-terrain tires
- Yokohama Geolandar A/T-S 215-60-17 tires
- KYB Excel-G OE REplacement Struts (2004 in rear for better load carrying)
- 3/4" Paranoid Fabrications Strut Spacers

- 2" Class III Receiver Hitch
- Maxxtow Aluminum Cargo Carrier

Softroading Specific Mods:
- RallyArmor UR Mud Flap Set (black/gray)
- ARB Touring 2500 Awning
- Primitive Racing Skid Plate
- Viair 450P Portable Air Compressor
- OPT7 32" C2 LED Combo Spot/Fog Light Bar
- (4) WaterBrick 3.5 Gallon Potable Water Containers

Cargo and Storage:
Two configurations on different sets of crossbars. Swap back and forth in about 30 minutes. There are brackets for the awning on both setups;
Configuration A:
- Thule 450 Crossroad set w/50" crossbars
- Subaru Heavy Duty Cargo Basket (Same as Yakima LoadWarrior)
- Yakima LoadWarrior 18" basket extension
- FourTreks Modular ARB awning mount
- RoofBag Waterproof 15 cu ft Cross-Country Car Top Carrier
Configuration B:
- Thule 450 Crossroad set w/58" crossbars
- (2) Yakima Fork Lift bicycle racks
- (2) Thule Hull-a-Port Folding Kayak Mounts
- RhinoRack Foxwing awning mount

Possible/Future Plans:
- Fridge/Freezer
- Sleeping Platform
- Brackets for Jerry cans
- Interior Storage (where back seat currently is)

(Crappy phone photo through a window screen)

2011 Forester XT wheels I bought to mount the AT tires on. Tread was better than my OEM tread, so I'm using them now, and will get AT tires in the fall.

Sirius radio and Garmin GPS (with temporary wiring)
Here are the LED light strips I added to the cargo area. $7.19 a pair on Amazon. I'll be adding two more on the lift gate to act as flood/puddle lights.

I installed the other two LED strips on the lift gate today. Same parts and wiring as above, except this time I used the always hot side of the third dome light, and added a switch on the inside of the door. This way I can have the lift gate open and not have the overhead lights on, or if I'm sleeping inside, I can have these lights on without any other interior lights. There's adhesive around the switch that I'll peel off after it drys.

Wow, what a huge difference that made! First photo is with just the LEDs I added inside the cargo area yesterday. The next two photos are with the overhead LEDs turned on. All that light for just $14! I'm very pleased with the outcome!

I added the rear view camera that came with my new Garmin nuvi 2798. I still had all of the trim off from when I added the LED strips, and wanted to get things finished up. I mounted it between the left license plate light and the lift gate latch. The bracket is made to mount with two self-tapping screws or onto the license plate frame. I used one of the self-tappers, and also glued it to the plastic trim. I drilled a hole behind the plastic trim, and fed the cable through there.

I made the job extra hard on myself. I ran the power cable through the grommet between the body and lift gate, down the D pillar, removed the tail lamp assembly, fed the power cord to the tail lamp, and then looked to see which light is the backup lamp. Y'all know where this is going; the backup lamp is on the lift gate, right beside the new camera...

It is a crappy quality camera, but better than none, I guess. Or at least an added bit of security, as I'm already a fervent neck-swiveler.

Here's the crappy low resolution and way too wide angle. The first photo is from 15-18 feet in front of the red smart, and the second from 4 feet. By comparison, the camera on my daughter's Mazda 3 is very sharp and clear in all lighting conditions. That and the loaner 2015 Outback 3.6R (which was similar to the Mazda's) are my only experience with rear view cameras.

Oh, and the image is reversed, which on the Mazda and new Outback, it isn't.

Here's a photo at around 11:00 local, with only my LED backup lights for illumination. Not as bad as I expected, but still not much to write home about.

All in all, I'd recommend the Garmin nuvi 2797 rather than the 2798. The 2798 is $350 on Amazon, and the 2797 is $220. Plus, the 2797 can be found factory refurbished with full warranty for even less, whereas I couldn't find a refurbished 2798. (Although Amazon now shows the refurbished 2797 at the same $220 as the new one, so no savings there.)

Here's the output from the OPT7 32" C2 LED Light Bar. It is just temporarily wired to the battery, and the lamp is laying across the engine cover. Eventually, it will be mounted to the front of the Yakima LoadWarrior roof basket.

I ordered a Viair 450P Portable Air Compressor.

The compressor arrived today, and it is very nice! Larger than I expected, as I was planning on putting it in the hub of the spare wheel. I guess it will get stored in the rear footwell until I build some storage compartments.

The LED light bar will go on roof configuration A with the basket and awning. I'm re-painting the basket, and then I'll assemble everything for when I want to swap configurations. Power will be a plug somewhere in the back so there are no wires when using configuration B.

I just had new struts installed all around on my 2008 OBXT, using the 2004 rears for better load carrying without sag. I also had 3/4" Paranoid Fabrication strut spacers installed. And while it was on the lift, I had the 2" Hidden Hitch installed that's been sitting in the garage for a couple of years...

Photos from the guy who installed them, as I haven't gone to pick it up yet. Next is an alignment and a set of 225-60-17 Geolander A/T-S tires.

I just got back from an hour drive on the turnpike bringing the car home. Wow, what a noticeable difference! I could tell by the end of the guy's street that I was going to appreciate the improvements, because it didn't dive when I put on the brakes. And it didn't bounce like an old Buick on the highway. This is going to make our cross-country trip much more enjoyable.

I picked up a set of 2011 Forester XT wheels for my Outback. Plans are to use them for the AT tires I eventually put on. The bonus, is that the tread on the Forester's stock all-season Yokohamas is much better than the tread on my OEM wheels. If they'll fit, I'll use them until I get new tires. They're 225-55-17s, so a little taller than my current tires.

The FourTreks 1.12" Modular LED mounts arrived today. (Well, they arrived a couple weeks ago, but I didn't bother to measure after getting the FourTreks 1.00" Modular Awning mounts. Thant's when I discovered that the front and rear lower cross bars on the Yakima basket are 1.12" diameter...) So I plan to mount the LED bar either on the lower crossbar and hang down in front of and below the fairing. Or I'll mount it on the additional basket crossbar just behind the fairing so that it is out of sight unless I need it, and then I'll just swivel the fairing down out of the way.

And I have the primer and first coat on the basket, but haven't had a windless day for a while to put an additional coat or two on it before mounting the parts. Plus I might get a kayaking trip or two in before changing rooftop configurations. Time's running out!

And I never got around to adding the third set of LED tips under the hood. Not sure if I'll get to that before the trip.

Today I received my order of a stack of four WaterBricks to store potable water. Each brick is 3.5 gallons, and fits flat on the rear floor. I'll only be taking two this trip, but they easily stack two high, giving me 15 gallons of water on future trips to drier climates.

That's better! :)

I'm glad I didn't go with 225-60-17 tires!

Today I picked up Tractor Supply Company's version of the Maxxtow #70108 Aluminum Cargo Carrier, and assembled it. Since the Outback only has a listed tongue weight of 200#, I went with the lighter version, rather than the slightly cheaper but 30# heavier painted steel version.

We'll use this on our trip to Seattle in a few weeks, and then stash it there for a future return trip, or disassemble it and strap it to the roof rack for the meandering return trip.

This reflective tape ought to keep anyone from running into me, or busting a shin!

One week until we leave! Today I had the local Subaru dealer change oil, and give the car a good looking over before taking off. Then I got a new Interstate battery to replace the OEM one, since we will probably getting into some colder weather.

I removed the Thule rack with two kayak mounts, two bike racks, and the ARB awning, and got ready to mount the OEM cross-bars with the Yakima RoadWarrior with extension, ARB awning, and LED light bar. But after the super solid Thule mount, I just wasn't confident with all that weight up there on the OEM cross-bars.

So I ordered a set of additional Thule mounts and bars to mount the basket configuration. An additional expense, but I won't have to go through the time consuming adjustments to get everything all square and lined up several times a year.

Meanwhile, it looks weird naked!

Today was productive. (It better be! I'm running out of time.)

I assembled and installed the Thule 450 Crossroad rack with 50" square bars. Then I played out the basket, installed the fairing, FourTreks Modular Awning mounts, FourTreks Modular LED light bar mounts, mounted the OPT7 CREE LED 32" light bar, and then lifted the whole assembly onto the Outback.

I had to do some adjusting. My kayak/bike/awning configuration puts the awning lower, but further outboard. With the basket/LED/awning configuration, the awning is higher, but closer to the car, causing interference with the lift gate when it was open. I had to move the basket further forward in order to support the awning front of the basket. It's pretty solid, and I could probably hang from the awning back plate.

I then temporarily wired the LED light. Since I change rack configurations, I don't want the wiring permanent. But eventually, I'd like to run a set of 4 gauge wires from the battery to a terminal block in the back of the Outback. There I could connect the LED light bar and any additional external lighting through the lift gate crack, plus have adequate power for my inverter and a future fridge. For this trip, though, it is stuck to the edge of the windscreen using adhesive blocks and zip-ties.

Flip down the fairing to reveal the LED light bar

FourTreks Modular LED lightbar mount

FourTreks Modular ARB Awning mount

Low Beams

High Beams


Wheel lug nuts re-torqued.
Windows Rain-Xed
USB charger cable run from rear 12V outlet and tested.
12V --> 110V AC inverter tested.
Tools assembled with spare bulbs, and fluids.
All fluids checked and topped off as needed.
Safety check: all lights and indicators work, tires at recommended PSI +2 (extended highway use while loaded)
We leave tomorrow! I don't feel the least bit ready. Who knew it took so much non-school related stuff to go to college!

We will be taking off around 1:00 PM, so we don't have to rush the final loading in the morning to get through Chicago before rush hour. We'll mosey along, and take the southern route on the map above, through Iowa. We'll stop somewhere around Davenport the first night.

Then up to South Dakota, and spend a day wandering around what we can get to in a reasonable time. At least Mount Rushmore. Then on toward Seattle.

I'll post a photo tomorrow just before we head out on the road.

[The next day]

Then I moved the discussion to my trip report, which is linked HERE.
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Six weeks later...

Three Plano Model 1819 Sportsman Storage Lockers arrived today. Got a great deal from Academy Sports and Outdoors ( at only $19.99 each and free shipping on orders over $25. They fit perfectly in my Yakima LoadWarrior with the 18" extension.



Founding Member
Nice. I've always wanted to pick up a Subaru. One of the last ones I looked at was a 2.5xt with the 5-speed. Super rare. Sadly my knees weren't up to the task of working the clutch so I had to pass on it.
Great write up. How much of the LED light bar reflects into the windshield?
None that I can tell. You can see from the photos below that it is pretty far back from the top of the windscreen. I've only needed to use it one time for about an hour, and had no problems with glare. When I used it, I positioned the fairing horizontal so that the wind from driving didn't push it down, but I don't see how that would have made much if any difference.

Nice. I've always wanted to pick up a Subaru. One of the last ones I looked at was a 2.5xt with the 5-speed. Super rare
@Dean Thank you! Mine is the 2.5 XT (turbo) w/5-speed, and it is indeed a joy to drive. Until earlier this year, I also had a 2002 WRX wagon that I bought new (yep, two black Subaru turbo 5-speed wagons. :) ) And while the WRX was much more fun to drive, the OBXT is much more comfortable and relaxed for traveling.
While in the Seattle area you should drive up and around the mountain loop highway. Start in Granite Falls WA over to Darrington WA then west to Arlington WA. Nice drive with chip seal and gravel roads. Right before you get to Arlington is the sight of Oso land slide.
While in the Seattle area you should drive up and around the mountain loop highway. Start in Granite Falls WA over to Darrington WA then west to Arlington WA. Nice drive with chip seal and gravel roads. Right before you get to Arlington is the sight of Oso land slide.
Thanks! That looks like an interesting loop to explore. We were close to Arlington when we came south from Deception Pass. We'll definitely take this when we go out there the next time. Great thing about our daughter being in Seattle for four years is the excuse for more PNW exploration! :)

Nice set-up! How was the trip home?
Well, it depends on when you consider us starting for home. ;) If Seattle, then it was spectacular, as that's when all of our real traveling started. But from Badlands east is when I consider us no longer on wandering around mode and more in beeline home mode. So other than the occasional side trip to places near the Interstate, that portion was just passing time as the miles rolled away.
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